View of the Dome,” Theresa Rebeck’s satire of Washington politics, is a lot like the recent political conventions: unconvincing characters mounting unconvincing lines, leaving audiences craving something smarter.
Although its episodic structure, cartoonish characters and a haples protagonist who directly addresses the audience recall Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey,” Rebeck’s play doesn’t begin to do to politicians what the celibate Jeffrey wouldn’t do to anyone. Rebeck so completely stacks her deck that the moral quagmire she hopes to portray comes off as simplistic as any kindergarten lesson.
“Dome” views Washington through the eyes of Emma (Julia Gibson), a young, idealistic lawyer who encourages her seemingly honorable mentor Arthur Woolf (Richard Poe) to run for Congress. After joining his campaign, donating $ 5,000 and introducing the candidate to her boyfriend/freelance campaign manager, Tommy (patrick Breen), Emma soon learns a hard lesson in pecking order politics: Accompanying her boss, her boyfriend and loudmouthed campaign consultant (Candy Buckley) to a tony Washington restayrant to meet th powerful Sen. Geoffrey Maddox (Jim Abele), Emma is banished by the consultant and the boss to a separate table. Later, when the senator asks about the odd seating arrangement, Emma makes an offhand quip that embarrasses her boss and sets her on a quick track to nowhere.
From this improbable situation — Emma’s banishment to restaurant Siberia is only the first of Rebeck’s unconvincing ploys, and the character’s quip would most likely get any underling reprimanded — the play wright spins a tale of lies, revenge and moral corruption. Emma, who says things like, “Whatever happened to ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?'” and bemoans her candidate’s quick descent into the Beltway cesspool, doesn’t hesitate to have an affair with the married senator and use the requisite sexy Polaroids to spark an Anita Hill-type inquiry that brings down all concerned. Although Rebeck wants us to believe that Emma is being manipulated by a group of right-wing religious fanatics, the character so easily embraces lies and deceit that the play’s intended slippery slope is more like a diving board.
The play’s shallow morality is matched by its lack of credible detail. A prominent senator who allows Polaroids in the bedroom? A well-educated lawyer cowed into submission by religious fanatics who threaten to take custody of her unborn baby? A famous Hollywood screenwriter (a secondary character who serves only to mouth part-time screenwriter Rebeck’s anti-Hollywood jokes) who hangs out in a D.C. bar?
A steady stream of minor characters, played by the principal cast, provides little more than a few easy laughs. Most interesting is a self loathing gay man who nonetheless is of no apparent importance to the plot. The acting is in keeping with the broad characters, although Buckley’s outsize brashness wears thin (particularly since she uses it for every one of the various roles she plays).
Director Micheal Mayer’s quick pace, however slick, can’t fill in the play’s potholes any more than easy references to John Kennedy Jr.’S wedding can pass for political savvy. This play’s view of the Dome gets no closer than that.